Aldridge Makes It Official; UT Five Nation's Best?

Power forward <B>LaMarcus Aldridge</B> Wednesday became the third McDonald's All-American to sign a National Letter of Intent to play basketball next season at Texas. The Seagoville product (6-11, 215, as listed by UT) is ranked as the nation's No. 6 high school prospect by, and completes what many consider to be the nation's top-ranked recruiting class.

"He's long. He's athletic. He can play all over the court," head coach Rick Barnes said. "As he conditions to develop physically, he can affect a game in a lot of different ways."

Aldridge verbally committed to Texas last April but held off signing to explore his NBA draft status.

"LaMarcus has told us all along that if he decided to enter college he was going to go to The University of Texas," Barnes said. "That was never in doubt because he's a person of his word. He told us that a long time back. I think the reason he didn't sign earlier was because if the NBA was an option, he didn't want people to think he wasn't serious about it. I could feel the excitement in his voice about how committed he was to coming here and helping us improve this program and continue to move forward with it." Aldridge averaged 28.9 points and 13.4 rebounds per game during his senior season while leading his team to the Class 4A state quarterfinals. Already, he is considered a Carmelo Anthony-type talent. It begs the question: will Aldridge likewise jump to the NBA after just one year of collegiate hoops?

"If he got backed into a corner, he would say he's coming here with the idea that he's going to be here as long as it takes to get him where he wants to go," Barnes said. "It could be a year; it could be two. If I knew all that, it would make it a lot easier. I just know he's going to come here and he's going to put both feet on this campus. He's not going to come here with one foot on campus and one foot out. His whole thing is about being the best player he can be. I will tell you this, too: he meant it when he said he wants to come here and be a part of a program that one day can bring a national championship to the state of Texas. I know that means something to him. But I also know it means something to him to one day realize his dream of playing at the highest level." Added Barnes: "I think LaMarcus has set some high and lofty goals for himself, and if it's one-year-and-done, it's because he's reached a lot goals. He hasn't put any timetable on himself. I hope LaMarcus Aldridge will come in here and put himself in a position where, a year from now, people are talking about him as one of the top players in the way the NBA looks at him. If he's doing that then it probably means we're a pretty good basketball team."

Aldridge joins a group of four fall signees on the 2004-05 Longhorn roster: Connor Atchley (Houston), Dion Dowell (Texas City), Daniel Gibson (Houston) and Mike Williams (Camden, Ala). Gibson and Williams, who also were named McDonald's All-Americans this spring, exerted their influence in convincing Aldridge to join them next season when they convened during the McDonald's All-American basketball game two weeks ago.

"I think the weekend he spent with Daniel Gibson and Mike Williams had a lot to do with it because those guys wanted him to be a big part of their team," Barnes said. "Those guys have developed a bond over the last couple of summers so it worked out well."

While many have dubbed Barnes' class as the nation's best, several hoops pundits have also suggested that college basketball has not seen a Fab Five like this since Michigan's highly touted youngsters led the Wolverines to the national title game in 1992 and in '93. Barnes, of course, refuses to prematurely label any group of recruits until their collegiate careers are in the record books.

"This group of guys have a reputation," Barnes said, "and they've received that over the course of a couple of years. They've been on the radar with summer league games and what they've done and accomplished throughout high school. I'm not going to let the expectations of the so-called 'best recruiting class in the country' mean anything to me because I know next year, when we start playing, it's not going to win us any games. I do think that this group of guys is talented. We've got something to work with it. We also know the fact that people have told them they are good doesn't mean anything. We're going to have to come in here and do it."

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